How Oftana and Lastimosa went from Dumaguete dreamers to Gilas

Longtime friends Calvin Oftana and Jerom Lastimosa finally got a chance to play together this week as they suited up for Gilas ahead of the final window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup qualifiers. Courtesy of Coach Michael Villahermosa

Calvin Oftana, the TNT do-it-all wing, and Jerom Lastimosa, the Adamson University do-it-all guard, were inside the same facility on the same day, wearing the same jersey for the same practice session. Finally.

Tropang Giga's rising star and the Soaring Falcon king were practicing for Gilas Pilipinas ahead of Window 6 of the FIBA World Cup 2023 Asian qualifiers -- where Philippines is set to host matchups against Lebanon on Friday, Feb. 24, and against Jordan on Monday, Feb. 27.

Ultimately, Oftana made the final roster cut alongside, while Lastimosa fell just short.

Still, they've both come far, considering that just eight years ago, they weren't on anybody's radar -- just like their province wasn't on the basketball map.

Oftana and Lastimosa are from Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, the eastern side of Negros Island. The island's other half, Negros Occidental, is home to a long line of good-to-great basketball players from Francis Arnaiz and Rudy Distrito to James Yap and Reynel Hugnatan to SJ Belangel and Kib Montalbo.

Dumaguete, meanwhile, was never known as a hotbed for basketball talent. Until Oftana.

A superstar for the city's Asian College, the 6-foot-5 forward transferred to San Beda University in the NCAA where he went from Team B to bench player to key contributor to league MVP. He was selected third overall in the 2020 PBA Draft, and went from NLEX building block to TNT cornerstone, and has now played in three games for Gilas.

"Hindi known ang Dumaguete for producing players na naglalaro sa Manila. It started sa'kin, ta's sunod-sunod na. It's a big thing na nasimulan namin siya kaya ngayon, marami-rami nang scouts and coaches na nag-approach sa'kin about Dumaguete," he shared. "It's an achievement para sa city namin na may players na sila from (collegiate leagues like NCAA and UAAP) to PBA to Gilas."

As Oftana rose through the ranks in San Beda, Lastimosa got his big break with the Soaring Falcons, where he impressed as a rookie before emerging as the best collegiate point guard.

The 24-year-old has vowed to play his final year of eligibility for the San Marcelino-based squad, but in the meantime, he's trying his luck in wearing the flag.

For his part, Oftana couldn't be any prouder that there was no time wasted for another son of Dumaguete to follow in his path.

"Sobrang proud ako kay Jerom kasi from rookie year niya, maganda na pinapakita niya. Step-by-step din ginawa niya e, tulad sa'kin," he noted. "Kami talaga, from scratch e. Kaya ngayon, binibigyan ko siya ng kung anumang mabibigay kong advice. Lalo na sa pag-aalaga ng katawan niya, kasi yun yung puhunan ng player e."

The two are determined to keep it going for Dumaguete, paying it forward by laying the groundwork for the next generation of their kababayans.

"It's a big help na nakikita na nila kaming nauna rito. 'Pag umuuwi na nga ako, may mga clinic na rin, na malaking bagay para sa mga bata ngayon. Dati sa'min, wala talaga e, kaya kailangan mo magsikap kung paano ka gagaling," recalled Oftana. "Kaya lagi ko ring sinasabi sa mga bata, kung may kailangan kayo, mag-message lang kayo. Wala namang bayad magtanong kung anong kailangan gawin para mag-improve."

Calvin Oftana and Jerom Lastimosa put Dumaguete on the basketball map. And with Gilas Pilipinas, they hope to keep the Philippines shining bright on the global stage.